The word “coda” is usually reserved for an ending, something final, a goodbye. So, it’s interesting that Coda from writer Simon Spurrier and artist Matias Bergara feels so much like a new type of hello, an introduction to an entirely new world with so much potential. But, it does. Naturally, that means this first volume comes with the goods and bads of those introductions — growing pains of which Coda has more than a few. But in overwhelming supply it also has charm, creativity, wit, honesty, and a unique energy that crackles with potential. For that, and despite its flaws, it’s a welcome addition to an ever-growing collection of new weird fantasy in comics.
What’s it all about? In brief, Coda follows Hum, a disgraced, disgruntled and entirely unlikable but resilient and charming former bard in the wreckage of the world on a mission (he hates the word quest) to find his imprisoned wife, Serka, following a cataclysmic event called “The Quench.” It’s also about much more than that and, this is where an important warning comes in — Spurrier’s writing is demanding —this story is no different. If heady, poetry-waxing, philosophical debates in the margins and forefront of your comics aren’t your thing, you may be dissuaded here.
The dialogue, the world-building, and those same poetic-waxings and philosophical debates aren’t there for set dressing or posturing, though — they’re fully realized, important additions to the story. Resilient readers — and the story does require a certain amount of grit to get through all the new slang and verbiage being thrown your way frequently (context clues help with new words like “Akker” being through around a lot) — are seriously rewarded in the payout of this amazing, post-Tolkien world full of reluctant heroes, grisly monsters, and the grey space between.
What’s it mean to be a hero? Are we heroes for just one good deed? Does the bad ever outweigh the good? What’s the scale look like? Who is lady Justice here, in the wreckage of the world? Coda explores these questions and answers through multiple perspectives to thrilling, not always fulfilled, but endearing degrees.
Especially so, when the script is flipped, and it’s revealed that our hero’s wife isn’t literally imprisoned at all. No, she walks quite free. And, she’s one of the few responsible for what has happened to the world. Now? She’s trying to fix that, imprisoned only by her dark nature.
It’s a stunning reveal. One that I didn’t expect at all. One that took far too long to get to, as it makes the first few issues of the volume seem poorly paced in hindsight. But, one that also sold me on just about anywhere this story wants to take me, to be honest.
Luckily, Spurrier has found a partner in Bergara who is willing to go the distance with this story, too. Bringing horrible giants, strange ogres, and devilish unicorns with five horns (it’s a pentacorn, really) to life in stunning color and fluidity, Bergara’s art is a revelation with little flaws as fantastic worlds and cities, fungal caverns, wizard’s towers alike are all brought to life in this vivid colorway evocative of a weird 70s sci-fi novel that doesn’t know when to quit in the best of ways, oftentimes blending genres unexpectedly and to great effect.
Among those flaws, though, is an inability to draw focus to the key characters in large scenes. Meaning that, too often, when big events happen, when things really go down, it takes a second to find the key players amongst the beautiful, complex, and entirely overwhelming art. It’s a minor gripe, and largely inconsequential when you know what to look for, but one that does hurt an otherwise stunning effort that for the most part unifies a fantastic cohesiveness between narrative and visual storytelling.
So, what is Coda? Certainly, it’s not an ending. It may be leading to an ending for Hum and Serka, I suppose, and it may be an end for their world. But, for Spurrier and Bergara, and for us, it’s just a beginning here. A very, very promising one.